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California: The Great State of Denial

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POSTED August 8, 2009 1:18 a.m.
It was a defining moment.

The caller was angry about being assessed to pay for the upkeep of his neighborhood park dubbed Tesoro through landscape maintenance district fees.

He didn’t like the idea he had to pay for it. In talking with him, though, it wasn’t because Tesoro was one of the first few neighborhoods to have neighborhood park maintenance collapsed into annual LMD fees assessed per home. Instead he simply felt it should be a servcie provided by the city.

When asked, though, if he’d support higher taxes whether it was sales, parcel or property taxes to cover the tab the response was a resounding “no.”

A query about would he be happy if the landscaping along Woodard Avenue and on entrance streets disappeared, the response again was “no” as it was one of the reasons he bought in the neighborhood.

There you have it. In a nutshell, that’s why taxpayers are part of California’s problem.

Make no doubt about. Runaway bureaucracies and the high cost of redundant regulations are eating into the financial muscle of state government just as much as it is the private sector. There are a lot of things government is doing that they probably shouldn’t be doing. Most people, though, would agree the things that cities do – streets, public safety, libraries, parks, sewer, water, garbage collection, planning and such – are basic services.

We need to understand that if we want more we should first demand all levels of government look at all ways of providing the servcie so it can be done efficiently but in the end if that isn’t enough we have to be willing to pay more.

Politicians – of course –pander to those who want no service cuts or more services but don’t want to pay more taxes unless, of course, the taxes are taxing someone else.

 Perhaps the most effective elected leader in these parts ever to drive home the double standard that taxpayers have toward taxes and services was former State Senator Patrick Johnston.

He was in a spirited re-election campaign in the early 1990s against a Republican promoting no taxes who liked to proclaim to audiences that “Patrick Johnston never met a tax increase he didn’t like.”

His opponent delivered the same line during a joint debate at a Manteca Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the old Larimore’s Restaurant in the 200 block of North Main Street.

The challenger’s remarks drew a loud round of applause from the business group.

Then it was Johnston’s turn. The lanky Stockton resident stood up , scanned the room and started methodically listing various services from pothole repairs to schools to police and fire protection that he noted everybody seemed to want and was all paid by taxes.

Then he delivered the line. Pointing to the south Johnston said, “Even the Highway 120 Bypass that many in this room campaigned extensively to get the state to build was paid for with taxes.”

When he was finished, you could hear a pin drop. Scanning the room more than a few people had a “gee-I –didn’t –think-of-that” look on their faces.

There is little doubt spending by all levels of government has to be reined in. Manteca – if you think about it – was able to get rid of over $6 million in expenses by rethinking how things were getting down and doing so with less people. Times like this are great opportunities to re-evaluate and slim down where possible.

Manteca – like other cities and counties – has the problem now of dealing with the state’s theft of local revenue plus mandates handed down from Sacramento without funding that makes it impossible to save money by reducing “busy work” including repetitive environmental impact reports that for the most part keep rehashing the obvious. Cities such as Manteca for the most part are down to muscle.

It is wrong to view taxes as simply a necessary evil. They are what provide for the common defense and the common need that individuals can ill afford to do on their own including health and safety through things such as sewer, water, and garbage collection plus police and fire protection. Even the avenues of commerce – streets – fall into that category.

Politicians who fan the flames without offering concrete alternatives for specific cuts instead of general examples are the worse kind of instigators. They simply keep the pot boiling for their own advantage very nicely making it next to impossible reshape government into a more cost-efficient entity.
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